TBTF for 7/27/98: Passionate intensity
T a s t y B i t s f r o m t h e T e c h n o l o g y F r o n t
Timely news of the bellwethers in computer and communications
technology that will affect electronic commerce -- since 1994
Your Host: Keith Dawson
This issue: < http://www.tbtf.com/archive/07-27-98.html >
C o n t e n t s
CDA-II: the second coming
Dead in the water
TidBITS sues a spammer
Windows users may experience a little turbulence
Microsoft withdraws from Korean word processor deal
An aggregator of co-location space
Year 2000 corner
Wall Street is Y2K-OK in early readiness test
Y2K book reaches best-seller status
Geek code interpreter
..CDA-II: the second coming
A revived Communications Decency Act passes the Senate
Last year, four days after the Supreme Court nuked the Communica-
tions Decency Act, TBTF for 6/30/97  carried rumors of the birth
of its successor. After 11 months vexed to nightmare by a rocking
cradle, on 23 July the Son of CDA was born . Surprise: it's
twins. Both came attached to an appropriations bill for Commerce,
State Department, and Justice spending, which passed unanimously
on a voice vote with no debate.
Sen. Dan Coats introduced an amendment to ban "commercial distribu-
tion on the World Wide Web of material that is harmful to minors."
CDA II is substantially the same as its predecessor, with the phrase
"harmful to minors" replacing the earlier "indecent." (This took 11
Sen. John McCain's Internet School Filtering Act would require that
any school or library receiving federal funds for Internet access
install censorware on its computers. Fortunately, the act explicit-
ly forbids any government agency from any role in selecting what is
The Mining Company has a good, sarcastic summary of the bills  --
thanks to Monty Solomon for the link.
..Dead in the water
What was Windows NT doing onboard a disabled Navy ship?
Government Computer News reports  on accusations by a civilian
engineer who works on Navy ships that battle cruisers in the Navy's
Smart Ships program have been disabled by malfunctions in their
networks of Windows NT computers. The Aegis missile cruiser York-
town last fall suffered a ship-wide system failure that apparently
spread from a divide-by-zero error resulting from incorrect user
input. The ship's propulsion systems failed and it couldn't leave
the dock at Norfolk, VA; the repair took two days. While the engin-
eer quoted in this original article  could be characterized as
disgruntled, the substance of the story has since been corroborated
by others in the Navy's Smart Ships program
Smart Ships is intended (among other goals) to enable ships to run
more efficiently with less manpower. The Navy reduced the Yorktown's
crew by 10 percent and saved more than $2.8 million a year from
automation. The ship uses dual 200-MHz Pentium Pros from Intergraph
Corp. running Windows NT 4.0 over a fiber-optic LAN. NT applications
aboard the Yorktown run the ship's control center on the bridge,
monitor the engines, and provide damage control and navigation sup-
Wired's coverage of this story  emphasizes the question of why NT
was chosen for such a mission-critical application. This paper 
by John Kirch compares Unix and NT systems in great depth and con-
> Why Windows NT Server 4.0 continues to exist in the enter-
> prise would be a topic appropriate for an investigative re-
> port in the field of psychology or marketing, not an article
> on information technology.
Thanks to David Mankins for pointing out this story and to Jon Cox
for the Kirch cite.
..TidBITS sues a spammer
First to court under Washington anti-spam law
The venerable online publication is based in Washington and so can
take advantage  of that state's anti-spam law . TidBITS editor
Adam Engst estimates that the publication has received nearly 100
copies of the "Bull's Eye Gold" spam from WorldTouch Network since
the anti-spam law went into effect on June 11. Under the law they
could ding the company $50,000 worth, which should act as a splendid
deterrent. News.com has picked up the story .
..Windows users may experience a little turbulence
Back Orifice will open Net-connected machines to a new level of
At next week's Defcon hacker conference in Las Vegas, the Boston-
based hacker group Cult of the Dead Cow plans to release Back Ori-
fice , a self-contained, self-installing utility that allows a
user to control and monitor Net-attached computers running Windows.
Read "Back Orifice" as "gaping backdoor into the system" and you
begin to get the idea.
The programmer who developed Back Orifice, who goes by the moniker
Sir Dystic, claims to have written a 120K server that attaches to
any executable, starts up with the machine, runs undetectably, and
renders the machine remotely manageable by an encrypted command
stream. Control is claimed over the file system, registry, process
list, password store, and more. BO is said to include a built-in
HTTP server so that you can peruse directories and download files
using any browser. (Though how you send encrypted commands from
Netscape is a question.) The utility also contains a packet snif-
fer, screen grabber, and keystroke monitor/capture package. You can
set which port it listens on, handy for penetrating firewalls.
About the only way you'd know a machine on your network had had a
Back Orifice inserted would be to catch some undecipherable traf-
fic going by on an unexpected port.
Clearly such a utility has legitimate uses, but they are not why
it will become widely known.
The Cult of the Dead Cow was in the news recently when one of its
members interviewed  the leader of the Hong Kong Blondes, a Chi-
nese hacking group fighting for human rights. (They're rumored to
have disabled a satellite.) Wired picked up the story .
Thanks to Tim Byars for the news on Back Orifice.
Global TLDs got nothing on these babies
One of the fathers of the Internet, Vint Cerf, said that plans are
underway to design an interplanetary Internet . NASA is likely
to take Internet equipment on its Mars mission and is considering
leaving an interplanetary gateway in orbit when the mission is done.
Cerf joked about new solar-level domains such as .earth and .mars,
but indicated he wasn't kidding about the coming interplanetariza-
tion of the Net. (Let's just agree now to say "I20N.") One of the
problems to be solved is the choice of underlying transport. TCP/IP
doesn't take kindly to 6-hour roundtrip traffic. Cerf said more an-
nouncements will be forthcoming in the week of August 3. Tune in to
..Microsoft withdraws from Korean word processor deal
Outraged users chip in to keep Microsoft competitor afloat
Microsoft has abandoned its efforts to buy the Korean word proces-
sing market (see TBTF for 6/29/98 ) from Hangul & Computer Co.
The cash-strapped company was negotiating for a $20M investment from
Microsoft, with the software giant insisting that Hangul withdraw
its popular word-processing software in favor of Microsoft Word,
which has a market share below 10%. Outraged Korean computer users
organized what amounted to a country-wide bake sale: some 13,000
users promised to invest up to $7.8M in Hangul. A company spokesman
said "Our talks with Microsoft are now over." A Bloomberg News story
claims that Korean is the only language in which Microsoft Word com-
petes where it is not the dominant word processor.
..An aggregator of co-location space
Continuing consolidation in the Net's infrastructure
Switch and Data Facilities  has gone into the business of leas-
ing floorspace in the regional Bell companies' switching centers and
subletting it in small chunks to ISPs and competitive local-exchange
carriers . In this consolidation strategy it is following in the
footsteps of Sage , which is buying up hosting companies, and
RCN  which (among many others) is agglomerating ISPs. (RCN just
bought another one: JavaNet in western Massachusetts .)
Seeing and being seen
The Atlantic Monthly  has a map by a couple of University of
Kentucky geographers who walked three square blocks in midtown
Manhattan looking for video cameras. The map  shows six dozen
cameras that gaze over pretty much the entire urban area surveyed.
Is this a bad thing? A couple of years ago I heard David Brin
talking on the subject that would become his book The Transparent
Society , . In person he convincingly, if shrilly, forces
listeners to question their assumptions about privacy and surveil-
lance. It all turns on the question of who gets to watch. Brin's
closely argued book picks out a path to a future in which our free-
doms are enhanced because all public space is under observation by
all of us.
Keith Bostic passed on the Atlantic cite -- thanks.
The weight of information
In last month's Scientific American the Morrisons do the mother of
all BOTECs: a dizzying run through all the work of humankind to ar-
rive at an estimate of its size in bits . The ancient library
at Alexandria's 600K scrolls amounted to about 50K books. Today the
Library of Congress holds around 20M books, worth 20 terabytes in
the currency of information. Add in several petabytes (thousand
trillion bytes) of sound recordings. Figure less than 100 terabytes
a year for new books and newspapers worldwide. A century's worth of
movies add a petabyte to the total and all the snapshots ever taken
a further 10 petabytes. The most radiant sources in the information
universe are television (100 petabytes a year) and telephony (sev-
eral thousand petabytes, or exebytes, of audio data annually). Very
roughly 100 petabytes of information, mostly TV, is recorded in a
form that is (or will be) retrievable.
..Year 2000 corner
..Wall Street is Y2K-OK in early readiness test
The Securities Industry Association recently mounted a test 
involving all the major stock exchanges, 29 brokerage firms, and
trading corporations, who executed simulated trades dated from
December 29, 1999 through January 3, 2000. Nothing failed. All
of the organizations involved had done their own Y2K compliance
remediation and testing before the joint test. An even larger-
scale test is scheduled for the first quarter of 1999.
..Y2K book reaches best-seller status
The book "Time Bomb 2000" , cited in TBTF for 5/29/98 , early
this month achieved best-seller status -- of a sort. On July 5 the
book made the NY Times top-5 list of paperback business publica-
tions. This list runs occasionally in the Money and Business sec-
tion, not weekly in the book review, and isn't what people usually
mean when they say "best seller." Still, the publisher was pleased
..Geek code interpreter
Say it loud: I'm a geek and I'm proud
You've seen them in people's email signatures and on Web pages.
Here's the tool that lets you in on the secret: The Geek Code
Interpreter . Try this example:
-----BEGIN GEEK CODE BLOCK-----
Version: 3.1 G d-(---)@ s+: a- C++$@ ULUAVISX+++$>++++
P+++$>++++ L++$>++++ !E---- W+++$ N++ o+ K--? w---(+) !O M++$
!V-- PS+ PE+ Y+(--)@ PGP+$ t+ 5+++ X++ R+++>$* tv+
b++++(--)@>++++ DI++++ D++ G++ e++(+++++)$ h--- r+++()@>$
------END GEEK CODE BLOCK------
No, this isn't my geek code -- I suppose not having one shows an
essential lack of geeknicity -- it belongs to Adrian Forte .
And here's the gospel, the definition of Geek Code 3.2 by its in-
ventor, Robert A. Hayden .
N o t e s
> This week's TBTF title comes from W. B. Yeats's poem "The Second
Coming" , , which gets a nod or two in the leadoff article.
> There will be no TBTF next week. Beginning August 10 I expect to
resume a regular weekly schedule.
S o u r c e s
> For a complete list of TBTF's (mostly email) sources, see
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Keith Dawson email@example.com
Layer of ash separates morning and evening milk.
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